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[EN] Innovation Hub Blog

Let’s wrap up the online Partos Innovation Festival 2020: the Civic must always meet the Digital

On October 8 and 9, more than 400 participants from over 50 counties gathered online to exchange insights and experiences on Digital Civic Power. Due to the current COVID-19 situation, the festival was held online, which provided the unique opportunity for people from all over the world to join, share ideas and connect. Like Kitty van der Heijden said: “Never waste a good crisis, but use the opportunities”. This online edition of the festival was divided into three blocks with various speakers, panels and demos of digital tools in practice. In this article we’ll take you through some of the festival’s most inspiring quotes, lessons learned and call to actions.

15 oktober 2020

Block 1: Civic Digital Power for a better world
After a joint welcome by host Monique van Dusseldorp and director of Partos, Bart Romijn, the Dutch Director-General of International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Kitty van der Heijden officially opened the Festival with an explicit call for collaboration:

“I would like to call on all of us to have the highest possible ambition, whether you are working in the private sector, in civil society, whether you are a government official such as myself, we need to make sure that technology strengthens our efforts for a more equal and a more sustainable world.”

She provided a timely reflection on the opportunities and risks of digital civic power within international development, in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic. According to Van der Heijden, the pandemic exposes vulnerabilities, yet at the same time amplifies the power that civil society and citizens have for collective action and meaningful change. “The digital should be used as a force for the good”, highlighting cross-sector collaborations. We can fight “the dark corners of cyberspace” together if we only unite voices. Also, digital anthropologist Payal Arora claimed that the fair use of digital tools is crucial for the ‘Next Billion Users’ of the internet. While referring to the energy after World War II that gave rise to the UN and other international institutes Arora said that “We need a global standard on data, move away from a market orientation and make our digital world more inclusive. We should see the internet as part of the ecosystem of living systems”. Have a look at her presentation here.

The interactive panel discussions between several digital experts tapped into the potential and challenges of specific tools and platforms, namely: Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Social Media. Opportunities lay in inclusive and equitable development cooperation, yet only if such technology is developed for all and the benefits are inclusive. As Sennay Ghebreab said: “AI for good is AI for all and by all”. Ultimately, the theme of Civic Digital Power closely aligns with a conclusion we drawn from this panel discussion: the civic must always meet the digital in an expanding digital realm.

Block 2: Digital tools for action
One main characteristic of the internet is its openness and public space. However, the latest years big tech companies have started to turn the internet into a marketplace. As Keynote speaker Marleen Stikker formulates it: “the internet is broken”. Therefore, Stikker started Waag; an organisation that looks at the effects of technology to develop the parts of the internet we can trust. Stikker believes that as a society, we can fix the internet; we should spend time, money and effort on the societal parts of the internet. Moreover, according to Stikker it is essential to open up the infrastructure to an inclusive, open and fair source so that we do not stay dependent solely on the bigger actors. Stikkers’ call to action for civil society is to facilitate this bottom-up creation process to make the internet public again.

An inspiring example of such an alternative infrastructure is the foundation laid in the Food Hackathon process. This project set up by Partos’ platform The Spindle, focused on creating collaborations. A variety of Dutch and Ugandan NGOs have worked on digital tools regarding food security in Uganda.

Another project initiated by The Spindle making digital tools for civil society practical were the 30 Most Inspiring Digital Innovations (MIDIs) that were chosen from more than 60 applicants. In 5 rounds, these 30 MIDIs presented their ideas and received feedback from the Festival audience. This project aims to scale up digital innovative opportunities that started as bottom-up local innovations.

  • Curious about these innovations? Check out our YouTube channel to watch the created pitch video of each innovation!

Three members of the jury that assessed the 30 MIDIs came together in the panel Voices from Beyond the West. Rahel Boon-Dejene, Minhaz Anwar and Mark Kamau are all experts in the field of internet implementation in non-Western regions. Mark introduced the concept of “digital illiteracy” and explained that the lack thereof can pose big problems. Rahel added to this the importance of digital education, suggesting this also influences people’s susceptibility to fake news for example. As civil society, we should see developing countries as co-partners in the process of making the digital sustainable and inclusive. Minhaz emphasised that, in collaboration with other sectors, this is our role as civil society. Together, we can fight the unequal distribution of access and affordability.

Block 3: The Digital Journey
Keynote Jeremy Heimans kicked off the third and final block of the Festival. He shared his insights in the dichotomy and analogy of Old and New Power. These types of power define to what extent an organisation, company or state uses its digital tools in a participatory way. Old Power would work like a currency: it is based on what you own, therefore automatically what others don’t. It’s leader-driven and very rigid, while New Power on the other hand is more like a current; you can find ways to channel its energy through. New Power is characterised by collaboration, participation and partnerships. Jeremy emphasised that one type of power is not necessarily better than the other:

“To be effective in a sustainable way, a blend of these two powers needs to be integrated into our operations. He challenged us to evaluate ourselves with these principles, to make us aware of where we are and where we want to go regarding our digital participation.”

The various products that were invented and partnerships that were made during the Digital Journey exemplified how this awareness of Old and New Power is already on its way. The 7 initiatives that arose from months of cooperating and exchanging skills, included a variety of partnership-oriented products, such as a data-sharing initiative in Mali or a social network for information exchange in Nepal. While the potential of digital is already there, its successful incorporation in development requires us to focus on equal access and inclusive cooperation. If you want to be part of this new power, check out the various tools developed by the Digital Journey and consider contributing some of your energy and expertise to their development!

At the end of this Festival’s online edition, it was concluded that civil society is quite aware of the strengths of New Power. Through acting, balancing and connecting with each other and for each other, the power of digital can be fully harnessed, and a better world will follow. As Bart Romijn closed the Festival: “We have a lot of power, let’s unlock this power. Let’s connect people that might not have been able or in the position to harness and use their power. Every person is powerful, it are structures that limit them, so let’s unleash this power, mobilise this power and the world will be much better.”